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Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Turn To Charity To Improve Image

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While there are dozens of theories about how the date came to have such significance, the most widely accepted can be traced to a group of teenagers from San Rafael, California. The group, nicknamed the Waldos for their favorite hangout spot (a wall outside of school), used to meet after school to smoke pot. The timing of their meeting, 4:20pm, became a kind of greeting in the hallway, and the rest, as they say, is stoner history.

Nearly 40 years later, the use of marijuana has spread from high school age kids taking illegal drags behind walls to a more front and center movement. While still prohibited by federal law (possession can lead to fines and jail time), eighteen states allow the possession of marijuana for medical purposes. And even though it remains illegal under any circumstances under federal law, wow states, Washington and Colorado, allow pot to be regulated and taxed like alcohol: those 21 and older may smoke pot (restrictions apply).

The sentiment that states ought to be able to regulate — and tax — marijuana is growing. Even those that don't believe that marijuana should be legal have concerns about states' rights. According to a Gallup poll, as of December 2012, 64% of Americans were opposed to the federal government regulating marijuana when it contrasts with state law.

So why won't the feds budge? Think of all of that revenue they could bring in if they, like Colorado, were to legalize and tax marijuana. It's complicated.

It was the taxation of marijuana in the 1930s which lead to the criminalization of marijuana in the first place. At the early part of the 20th century, during Prohibition, booze was illegal but marijuana was not. Under the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, there was a two part tax on the sale of marijuana; one which functioned like a sales tax and another which was more akin to an occupational tax for licensed dealers. Violations of the Act resulted in serious consequences.

In 1969, Timothy Leary challenged his arrest for possession of marijuana under the Act; the case of Leary v. United States made it to the Supreme Court. The Court invalidated part of the Act as a violation of the Fifth Amendment (against self-incrimination). The result was a new law, the Controlled Substances Act, passed in 1970, which criminalized the possession or sale of marijuana.

Forty years later, the debate about the legalization of marijuana — and the right to regulate and tax it rages on. States see this as their opportunity to control and tax a substance already being sold on street corners. But the feds steadfastly refuse to budge, even for medical reasons. With nearly half of all states now legalizing the drug in some way, is that about to change?Recreational weed may be a reality in Colorado in the wake of Amendment 64, but its older brother, the medical-marijuana industry, continues to face financial and public-relations hurdles in winning acceptance from the wider business community.

Few know that better than the owners of Colorado's 675 medical- marijuana dispensaries, many of which have met heated opposition when trying to become established in neighborhoods across the state.

"A couple of years ago, there was nothing in place to normalize the industry and keep that black eye from growing bigger," said Kayvan Khalatbari, co-owner of the Denver Relief dispensary. "People were still operating as if it was really underground, and once we got in we didn't want to be lumped in with those people."

So Khalatbari and his Denver Relief partner Ean Seeb founded the Green Team, a volunteer organization whose stated mission is to improve the perception of medical cannabis through community service and social activism.

And they're not alone.

"There's at least 10 (Colorado dispensaries) I can think of that gave at least $10,000 or $20,000 to charity in 2012," said Betty Aldworth, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

The growing movement of philanthropic-minded industry groups and dispensaries is turning Colorado into a national example of how marijuana businesses can improve their image – while also getting their name out to potential customers.

Denver Relief, for example, holds a free monthly wheelchair and bike repair clinic and ongoing canned food and clothing drives, and is sending its Green Team to collect trash at downtown's "4/20 Rally" in Civic Center park on Saturday.

This year they joined with more than a dozen marijuana-related businesses and are expecting 100 volunteers to meet at the Denver Relief tent to clean the park, adding to the nearly 900 hours of already-logged volunteer time.

Khalatbari is also flying to Amherst, Mass., on Saturday, where he'll lead about a dozen volunteers the Green Team has recruited in a state that last year passed its own medical-marijuana laws.

"This is the first out-of-state test run so we'll see how it goes, but we'll be consulting in Arizona, Canada and elsewhere," Khalatbari said. "I don't think anybody else right now in the industry is focusing on the philanthropy aspect because they're too busy trying to keep their business together."

Money raised
Little information exists on coordinated image-burnishing efforts among dispensaries in other states, according to the Cannabis Industry's Aldworth.

"The data in this business is very difficult to come by," she said. "But there are a handful that do a great job tracking it."

She pointed to Denver Relief as well as Denver dispensary chain The Clinic, which holds an annual golf tournament sponsored by cannabis-related businesses to gather money for multiple sclerosis research. The Clinic has raised $50,000 for the cause since 2009 and hopes to raise another $25,000 this year alone.

"There's probably about seven 'specialty holes' out on the (golf) course and we allow companies to go out and set up a booth."

Critics say philanthropy is beside the point when the industry has yet to prove its products are safe and inaccessible to children.

"It's hard to be critical of anyone who wants to help out in the community, but are they doing everything they can to limit the negative impacts of their business?" asked Eric Anderson, spokesman for Smart Colorado, a group focused on "smart implementation" of Amendment 64. "There's so many tangible negative impacts of their core business that you would hope they would get their arms around that before they start branching out to trash pickup and food drives."

He also noted how various charities have refused money from tobacco companies, for example, because they don't want to be aligned with a negatively stigmatized business.

Indeed, Children's Hospital Colorado recently turned down a monetary donation from Denver Relief for the same reason, according to Khalatbari.

No "value judgments"
Dispensary advocates argue their efforts are more akin to passionately held beliefs soaking through their business models, in the same way Fort Collins' New Belgium Brewery has donated $5 million to progressive-minded nonprofits.

The board of Community Shares of Colorado, which has collected more than $22 million for Colorado nonprofits through workplace giving programs, has begun discussing opening its services to medical- marijuana businesses. However, it is waiting on the federal government's opinion of Colorado's marijuana industry, since that will affect dispensaries' access to basic banking services – a Community Shares requirement.

"We do have a gift acceptance policy but we don't make value judgments on the type of businesses we will work with on giving campaigns," Community Shares chief executive Alyssa Kopf said. "We raise money for a lot of environmental groups, but we would still work with an oil and gas company because we believe all their employees should have an easy way to give."

Colorado's medical-marijuana industry is expected to double its $200 million annual sales by 2014, according to the Cannabis Industry's Aldworth, so it's inevitable that the money will outweigh the stigma.

"Just like in any other business, this is about corporate citizenship," she said. "Philanthropy impacts the bottom line, but these are people who are ethically motivated to do this and deeply involved in their communities. The challenge is finding a nonprofit that will take our money or volunteer time and be proud of it."


News Hawk- Truth Seeker 420 MAGAZINE ®
Source: denverpost.com
Author: John Wenzel
Contact: Contact Us - The Denver Post
Website: Medical marijuana dispensaries turn to charity to improve image - The Denver Post
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